Getting Klose to striking perfection

 

Emmet Malone looks at the career of Miroslav Klose, a player German manager Rudi Voller believes can become the perfect striker

It might have seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but in the wake of Saturday's 8-0 humiliation it's hard to imagine Nasser Al Johar disputing Rudi Voller's claim prior to these finals that Miroslav Klose has everything it takes to become the perfect striker.

The Germans have had a few cracks at producing flawless models down the years but few of even the better known ones have made such an impact so early in their international careers. For Klose, though, life moves at an altogether different pace these days.

While many of this squad were embroiled in Germany's last World Cup final campaign four years ago in France, the then teenage striker was in the process of signing amateur forms for Kaiserslautern.

Now, three years after turning professional at the club and just 15 months on from his international debut, the 23-year-old will have his choice of employers when he heads back home in a few weeks.

Prior to the weekend Bayer Leverkusen were said to be heading the queue of clubs willing to stump up the €15 million or so that it is estimated will be required to purchase his services. The fee could well get higher and list of interested clubs longer if he can continue to produce the sort of form that so comprehensively undermined the Saudi defence in Sapporo and brought his tally of international goals to 11 in 13 appearances.

For now, though, the newcomer insists he is simply trying to take in the series of events that has led to him being catapulted from the status of unknown outsider to a lead star on the world stage.

Though born in the Polish town of Opole, where his German father Josef had once played professionally for the local club Odra, Klose had no doubts about which country he identified with when a brief scramble to win his allegiance broke out 18 months ago.

His decision was swift, with the player insisting that, "in footballing terms I have always felt German".

He took even less time to make an impact for Voller's side when the German coach handed him his international debut against Albania in March of last year. With the game level at 1-1 and the seconds ticking away, Klose scored a desperately needed late winner for his side.

Four days later in Athens he was again brought on from the bench in the second half and repeated the trick, this time giving his side a 3-2 lead in a game that the visitors eventually won by two goals.

In a nation finding itself between major striking talents due to the sudden decline of Oliver Bierhoff, the new boy's timing could hardly have been better.

Since then he has been close to unstoppable for both club and country with 19 Bundesliga goals this season and international hat-tricks in friendly games against Austria and Israel.

By the time the Germans were leaving for Japan he was the only forward in the squad sure of starting the Saudi game, and Carsten Jancker's eventual selection as the newcomer's striking partner was largely due to the vast Bayern Munich man's ability to play to Klose's strengths.

Those include pace, aerial power and a real poacher's instinct around the box, and while there are slight differences of opinion over which are his greatest assets there was some puzzlement after the Saudi game when he talked about having answered his critics.

Voller had certainly been convinced some time back. "Miroslav has everything the perfect striker needs," he had said after realising that one of the major failings in the German side that went to Euro 2000 had been taken care of by the emergence of the 23-year-old a few months ago.

Even then the manager was still talking very much in term's of the player's vast potential.

Now he is seen as somebody around whom an attack can be entirely constructed although there is a clear expectation that his best days will stretch well out into the future.

"He is a good professional," said Kaiserslautern team-mate Taribo West. "He is always willing to learn, very disciplined, very quiet. He is a player who keeps his head down and works very hard. If things go well for him the sky's the limit."